Investigating Research Master students’ interests in Research Integrity to improve its education
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Research Integrity (RI) covers ethical concerns during the different stages of the research cycle. RI education has gained attention in response to a series of scandals of misconduct, and means to teach students Responsible Conduct of Research (RCR). However, current RI education is not rated highly and considered boring by Research Master (RMA) students at Utrecht University, jeopardising its ability to reach its goals. This research aims to identify topics within RI that RMA students find most interesting, so RI education can then be shifted to focus more on those topics, hopefully reawakening RMA students’ interest in RI. A secondary aim was to discover if a RMA student’s Graduate School was an important determinant for their interest in certain topics within RI. The study consisted of two parts, a questionnaire to collect quantitative data on which topics within RI are important to RMA students of Utrecht University, and then semi-structured interviews to gather qualitative data on why these topics are considered relevant or interesting. The questionnaire received 114 responses from students of the Graduate Schools of Humanities, Natural Sciences, Life Sciences, Teaching, Social and Behavioural Sciences, Geosciences and Pharmacy. The interviews numbered four in total, with students from the Graduate School of Teaching. The questionnaire revealed that topics on communicating with and support from supervisors, ethical handling of both quantitative and qualitative data (from safekeeping participants’ privacy to selecting proper statistical methods), collaboration with peers and referencing correctly are perceived as most important. Interviews and qualitative data from the questionnaire showed that especially the first two topics (supervisor and data) are considered important, due to the large impact both have on the eventual success and graduation of a student. The ‘collaboration with peers’ topic received more diverse responses, with some students finding it unnecessary to further learn about, while others do find it important. ‘Referencing’ was generally considered an important topic, but not as important as the other three. When looking at differences between the different Graduate Schools, the topic ‘data’ seemed most divisive. There were both major differences in what kinds of data (qualitative or quantitative) students from different Graduate Schools were familiar with, resulting in different ethical concerns being raised, but there was a differing level of guidance required as well. Maths-related RMA students do not collect or have to work with any type of data for their research, whereas the Graduate School of Geoscience students are taught hardly anything regarding data, as well as RI in general and referencing, so they have great need for education regarding these topics. Keeping these nuances in mind, the results imply that RI educational developers should focus on flexible education and include several different ethical dilemmas regarding the four topics of supervisor, data, collaboration with peers and references, with the RI teacher then selecting the appropriate ones for the students and maybe sub-dividing the students into different groups based on interest.